Photo courtesy of Convergence Theatre.
A few weeks back, Convergence Theatre artistic directors Aaron Willis and Julie Tepperman were on the verge of getting locked into creative isolation. The Harold Green Jewish Theatre had pulled funding from Convergence’s February production of their 2009 Next Stage hit Yichud (Seclusion) (the title refers to the period during a Jewish wedding when the bride and groom are shut in a room on their own—think seven minutes in Orthodox heaven), a move made after a sponsor withdrew over “concerns that the content might be misinterpreted.” Willis and Tepperman heard rumours of board-member intervention. But whatever the real reason—our request for an interview with someone from Harold Green was not returned—this real-life husband and wife quickly mustered enough chutzpah to get themselves just a few bucks shy of a happy ending for their onstage newlyweds. Now they just need to salvage one last week of rehearsal.
Thanks to a strong initial push by Tepperman, Willis, and Theatre Passe Muraille’s artistic director, Andy McKim, Convergence was able to restore about forty thousand of the lost fifty thousand dollars in just a few days, guaranteeing that the show would go up. But considering that the play has been almost completely rewritten since it was last performed and includes a sizable chorus, live Klezmer band, and lots of audience mingling, the $9,467 needed for extra days of practice is essential. Although they still haven’t quite met their fundraising goals, an email campaign launched December 9 has got them within reach. “It’s been extraordinary,” says Tepperman. “People just started clicking on our link. By the next day we already had two thousand dollars. But the amount doesn’t really matter. In this case, literally every penny makes a difference.”
So is this an unfortunate but anomalous incident, or further proof of a local trend in which Jewish plays have their funds compromised? Willis and Tepperman lean toward the former. “I think this is really unusual as far as pulling funding goes,” says Willis. “When we’ve told peers about it, everyone has been aghast. And a lot of the support we’ve had is from people who’ve made donations because they disagree with what’s happened. If anything, I think Toronto is more fertile ground than ever.” Still, with arts budgets slashed to a pittance, their story does raise questions as to whether this sort of yes-we’ll-finance-you-wait-just-kidding approach to funding not-for-profit arts groups could become more of a standard in a time when purse strings are tighter and purses are fewer.
Despite the drama, Willis and Tepperman stress a desire to avoid sensationalism, especially since the subject matter is, apparently, not that racy. “People will come and be like, ‘What was all the fuss about?’” says Willis. “Although the play has an Orthodox Jewish setting, the themes are really universal. It’s about honouring and respecting the people in your family, and striving for intimacy. It’s through an Orthodox Jewish lens, but the specificity of that world is not exclusive.”
Yichud (Seclusion) runs February 10–27. Tickets can be purchased at Theatre Passe Muraille’s website, and donations can be made to “Help Convergence Theatre!” at The Arts Box Office.